The morning fog was thicker in the cemetary, and the only sound Claudia could hear was the purring of the buggy’s wheels as they rolled over the fallen leaves on the path. Even Tim was quiet. She wondered if he’d fallen asleep, and leaned down to check, but he was awake, sucking his two middle fingers and staring out in silence at the trees and bushes and the white haze around them. On the grave next to her husband’s, there was a mound that she didn’t remember from her last visit. Funny, it looked as though someone had arranged a body there and simply covered it with leaves. And was it her imagination, or did it smell strange as well? Claudia sniffed, but only caught the usual autumn scent of decaying leaves and moist, cool air. Parking the buggy on the path, she approached the simple headstone to lay down her chrysanthemums. There was a single rose on the stone already, another thing she didn’t remember from last time; a long-stemmed flower that had dried out completely to brittle shades of brown and rust. Trying to avoid the unusually large thorns, Claudia reached out to grasp the stem, only to cry out in pain and toss the rose away. That hadn’t just been a finger prick. It felt like something had bitten her.
The rose had landed on the pile of leaves and Claudia stared malevolently at it for a moment, then turned her attention back to her finger. It was bleeding, and she squeezed more blood out of it in a first, rudimentary attempt to cleanse the wound. Straightening up, she shook her hand so that the large drop of blood that had collected on her fingertip went flying in the same direction as the rose. The pile of leaves shuddered. At first, Claudia thought it was the wind and ignored it, leaning forward to reposition her chrysanthemums on the headstone. But unexpected motion caught her eye, and she looked again. Instead of being blown in one direction or another, the leaves were sinking. They rustled as they tumbled slowly down into the earth, and then the rustling sound changed, and the movement of the leaves shifted subtly. Something was coming up from underneath them. A violent shiver of fear shot up Claudia’s spine to the top of her head, and she had to force herself to take even one step backwards. The smell came first, a gag-inducing stench of rot and decay mixed with the metallic tang of fresh blood. Sliding her other foot backwards, Claudia felt it knock something behind her. She froze for a moment, and then she remembered. The buggy! Tim! Something black was emerging from the leaves now, vaguely human in shape but not at all human in appearance. Trying for a scream but only managing a raspy, breathless “uhhhh,” Claudia whirled, reaching out for the handles of the buggy.